If you check out ListVerse.com, which has a list for any stupid topic anyone can think of, you'll find a blog titled The Top Ten Cocaine Songs of All Time. Of course, no one knows who decides these issues so crucial to our times, but Lonesome, Onry and Mean thinks their list is something of a joke, mainly for its omissions. Cocaine wasn't invented with disco. No, cocaine songs have been part of the Eastern Seaboard and Piedmont traditions as far back as folklorists have been able to trace. Some folklorists mention bluesman Luke Charles as one possible author of "Cocaine Blues" around 1925. Here are some cocaine tunes that definitely should have made the list.1. Cab Calloway, "Kickin' the Gong Around":
"Kickin' the gong around" was jazzbo slang for opium smoking, but listen to the first line here and it's obvious Calloway had some familiarity with the blow. "It was down in Chinatown, all the cokies laid around, some were high and some were mighty low."
There's no way tell who "wrote" this one either, but Huddie Ledbetter certainly adapted it to fit Dallas with his references to "Main and Ellum." Leadbelly was a man of mighty appetites, and no doubt one of them was coke. Lead's recorded version is included in the interesting compilationMad Viper Blues: 25 Songs of Dope and Depravity
. Hippie band Mungo Jerry had a minor hit with the song in the late Sixties.
3. Fred Neil, "Sweet Cocaine":
"Cocaine's for horses and not for men "Doctors say it will kill you but they don't say when "Ho, ho, honey, take a whiff on me "Whiff-a-ree and whiff-a-rye "Goin' to keep whiffin', boys, til I die "Ho, ho, honey, take a whiff on me"
Neil was the king of the New York folk scene when Bob Dylan showed up in town. Neil's version, which appears on his 1967 albumFred Neil
, seems to flow fromRev. Gary Davis's version
. Bob Dylan played harmonica for Fred Neil on Neil's gigs at Café Wha?, and Dylan's recorded version is an almost straight-up cover of Neil's. Beginning when LOM was in college, we wore Neil's records out for years. His version is probably our favorite, although it has also been covered by Keith Richards and Townes van Zandt. "Come here, mama, come on quick, cocaine makin' your poor boy so sick, yeah, cocaine, runnin' around my brain."4. Hank Thompson & the Brazos Valley Boys, "Cocaine Blues":
LOM has this one on vinyl and Thompson's muscular western swing treatment and his world class band make it jump. This track is more interesting musically than Johnny Cash's more famous version from his monumental live show at San Quentin which revived his career. The first country version of this is credited to Red Arnall, the vocalist for W.A. Nichol's Western Aces, who recorded the song in 1947. One wonders what Thompson, his management, and his label Capitol Records were thinking when they placed the song on Thompson's stellar 1959 albumSongs For Rounders
. Nashville would break both legs backpedaling from a song like this today. "Willie Lee, your name is not Jack Brown, you're the dirty hop that shot your woman down."5. Steve Earle: "Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain":
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Let's face it: Steve Earle used to be crazy as a shithouse rat. His drug use was monumental in scale. Although heroin was the one that finally brought him down, Steve was certainly no stranger to the Bolivian marching powder. There's no YouTube of Earle playing this one, so here are the lyrics, which seem like they were surgically removed straight from Earle's veins.And as a bonus, here's a YouTube of Earle's other drug-related tune, "Copperhead Road."
It only takes one look at Earle in this video to know that the demons had hold of him.
"Cocaine cannot kill my pain "Like a freight train through my vein "Cocaine cannot kill my pain "Whiskey got no hold on me "Left them chains in Tennessee "Whiskey got no hold on me "Don't come knockin' on my door "Even that won't work no more "Don't come knockin' on my door "Heroin is the only thing "The only gift the darkness brings "Heroin is the only thing "Guess you'd best leave me alone "At least until these blues have gone "Guess you'd best leave me alone